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Preview: Keeping in Touch: Seattle Baroque presents Bach and Friends

November 22, 2010

It seems as if everyone is talking about social networking like it is a brand new idea, created the moment Facebook was born.  Seattle Baroque Orchestra’s concert this Saturday demonstrates the relevance of social networking in a program titled “Bach and Friends”.

Fred Hauptman is Early Edition’s guest blog contributor this week, writing about the connections between J.S. Bach, G.F. Telemann, and C.H. Graun.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to read the comments they might have left on Facebook walls?

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J.S. Bach

Since Seattle Baroque’s upcoming concert is entitled Bach and Friends, it set me to wondering about how composers, as jealous of their prerogatives then as now, did manage to make friends and keep in contact. Bach was as sedentary and unsocial as a man could be, but even he had musicians he trusted to help advance his career. The other composers on Saturday’s program are Graun and Telemann, men who were well-known to J.S. Bach. It is no coincidence that they were associated with the two most prestigious musical establishments in the German-speaking world, the courts of Dresden and Berlin.

During the first half on the 18th century, under the patronage of the Emperor Augustus II (known as “Augustus the Strong” due to an uncommon amount of Illegitimate children), Dresden possessed an orchestra that was the envy of Europe. Virtually all composers who could wrote works for them, which not only meant they were to be played there, but that Dresden had full rights to them, which was the usual practice back then. Bach wrote a Lutheran Mass (meaning only the Kyrie and Gloria) for August in 1733 which many years later resurfaced as the first two movements of the B minor Mass.  Although the Graun brothers, Carl Heinrich (1704-1759) and Johann Gottleib (1703-1771) were later members of the Prussian court of Frederick the Great at Berlin (along with C.P.E. Bach), they studied in Dresden with the concertmaster there, Pisendel, and sent him much music. Most of their chamber works exist only in Dresden copies. Incidentally, it is very hard to figure out which brother wrote any individual sonata, since most of them are just signed “Graun”.  Since Carl was mostly a composer of opera and Johann a violin virtuoso, the latter is the better bet.

Carl Heinrich Graun

Bach’s thorough knowledge of C.H. Graun, at least, is supported by a manuscript in the hand of J.S. Bach’s pupil Altnikol, of a passion oratorio by Graun, Wer ist der, so von Eden kömmt, which was arranged by Bach who then added three pieces of his own and some by Telemann. The oratorio itself is in a manner much more galant than anything by Bach, but old Bach had more tolerance for the new style than we usually think, hence his arrangement of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Other Dresden musicians were known to Bach, especially Jan Dismas Zelenka, one of the very few composers in C.P.E.’s list of people his father respected.

G. P. Telemann

As for Telemann, he must have been a friend of Bach’s from their student days at Leipzig. It was Telemann who started the famous collegium there, revived by Bach 20 years later. He later became godfather to C.P.E. Bach and published pieces by Bach in his periodical Der Getreuer Musickmeister.  So it was indeed possible to “network” in the 18th century, although at the time fraught with difficulty.  For example, there was a period of several years when Haydn and Boccherini tried to get in touch, but they both lived in remote courts of smaller royals and they never managed to get the right addresses.    – Fred Hauptman

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For more information about the concert, click here.

Saturday, Nov. 27 at 8PM

Town Hall Seattle (8th and Seneca)

Tickets: $40 general/$35 senior/$25 side sections/$15 students

Also available as part of Early Music Holidays special package of 3 performances.

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